A Plea for Mercy for Kermit Gosnell

From First Things
by Robert P. George

Abortionist Kermit Gosnell is facing the death penalty if he is convicted of the murders for which he is being tried in Philadelphia. Surely, the heinous acts of which he stands accused are depraved. They probably meet the criteria for capital punishment under Pennsylvania law. However, in the event that Gosnell is convicted, which seems likely, I am asking my fellow pro-lifers around the country to join me in requesting that his life be spared.

Someone might make the case for mercy by pointing out that Gosnell merely carried out the logic of the abortion license that is enshrined and protected in our law. One might note that there is no moral difference between dismembering a child inside the womb (which our jurisprudence, alas, treats as a constitutional liberty) and snipping a child’s neck after he or she has emerged from the womb (potentially a capital offense). How can our legal system impose the death penalty on Gosnell, given the arbitrariness and irrationality of the underlying law?

But that is not the fundamental reason for our asking for Gosnell’s life to be spared.

Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in widkedness, is our brother—a precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is “no.” There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.

If our plea for mercy moves the heart of a man who cruelly murdered innocent babies, the angels in heaven will rejoice. But whether it produces that effect or not, we will have shown all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that our pro-life witness is truly a witness of love—love even of our enemies, even of those whose appalling crimes against innocent human beings we must oppose with all our hearts, minds, and strength. In a profoundly compelling way, we will have given testimony to our belief in the sanctity of all human life.

I do not myself believe that the death penalty is ever required or justified as a matter of retributive justice. Many reasonable people of goodwill, including many who are strongly pro-life (and whose pro-life credentials I in no way question), disagree with me about that. But even if the death penalty is justified in a case like Gosnell’s, mercy is nevertheless a legitimate option, especially where our plea for mercy would itself advance the cause of respect for human life by testifying to the power of mercy and love.

I do not expect my request to be met with universal acclaim. Given the horrific nature of the acts of which Gosnell is accused, it is understandable that some, perhaps many or even most, will believe that this is not a case where mercy is appropriate. They will not want to join me. I understand.

However, I ask everyone who reads these words to consider the matter carefully and prayerfully. In 1994, I had the honor of representing Mother Teresa of Calcutta as her Counsel of Record on an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court of the United States asking the justices to reverse Roe v. Wade. In connection with that project, I learned that this was not Mother’s first intervention in American courts. On a number of occasions, she had asked judges to refrain from imposing the death penalty on a defendant convicted in a capital murder case. She did not question the defendants’ guilt, or even the justice of the death penalty. Her plea was always a plea for mercy.

By asking for mercy for Kermit Gosnell, we defenders of human life in all stages and conditions have the opportunity to follow the example of the greatest pro-life witness of the 20th century.

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12 Responses to A Plea for Mercy for Kermit Gosnell

  1. toad says:

    Surely all the above verbiage boils down to four little words: Killing people is wrong.


  2. JessicaHof says:

    What a shame the ages were not as wise as toad – shouldn’t someone elect him president of earth – or would he need the heavens as well?


  3. toad says:

    Fie, Jessica! You bring a blush of (utterly undeserved) pride to Toad’s old green cheeks. But, a million thanks for the wonderfully kindly thought, anyway.

    Your reward will not be on this earth.

    (Not from Toad, at least.)


  4. golden chersonnese says:

    It must be just Canadian irony you don’t get, dear Toad (no irony intended, dear Canadians).


  5. johnhenrycn says:

    Well, GC, I must confess that the English sense of irony is mostly intact and, as a rule, more keenly honed than North Americans’. I was just trying to tweak some Anglo noses late in the day when nothing much else was happening.
    I think if Toad were to read Robert George’s ‘verbiage’ with greater attention to detail, he would see the point Prof. George makes is that capital punishment is never “required or justified as a matter of retributive justice” – a reasonable point of view and one that I share – not that “killing people is wrong”, which is a mere mealy-mouthed holier-than-thou shibboleth trotted out by people with nothing personal at stake, such as a friend or loved one under vicious attack. Where there is a clear and present danger of grievous bodily harm to an innocent, the death of his or her attacker is a condign outcome one should not have to answer for in this world or the next. Which is not to suggest that the assassination of abortionists is justifiable.

    I’m pleased to note that George shares my view, expressed here a couple of days ago, that “there is no moral difference between dismembering a child inside the womb…and snipping a child’s neck after he or she has emerged from the womb.”


  6. toad says:

    Ironically enough, Golden, it appears that unless you have experienced Canadian irony, you haven’t experienced real, proper, God-fearing irony at all.

    Or so I am told by those Who Know. About These Things.

    That is to say, unless the gods smile on you benevolently enough that you are born somewhere called something like Moose Anus, Saskatchewan – you’d better kiss the whole idea of irony goodbye.
    I might be wrong, of course.


  7. toad says:

    You misunderstand me, for once, JH. When I said, “Killing people is wrong,” I was just trying to be ironic.
    Failed, as usual, of course. Not being from Elk Testacles, Calgary, or wherever.


  8. johnhenrycn says:

    What are “Elk Testacles”? Whatever, I’d rather be from there than from this small hamlet in Newfoundland…

    …but I know someone who went there last year for their annual summer festival known as – well you can read about it in this link, if you and the missus are interested.


  9. johnhenrycn says:

    Why is it that, often, when I post something intended as a light-hearted rejoinder, the next thing I read on the internet is about a terrible, wicked catastrophe? This latest one, perpetrated in the midst of thousands of people celebrating the simple joys of living life to the fullest, is enough to make one give up reading current events altogether. It’s always been so, hasn’t it? The last time terrorists killed people in Boston was in 1920, I think. Sacco and Vanzetti – anarchists. There will always be blood; but as John Paul II is said to have done, I would like to give up reading the news – print or online- altogether. What is the point of reading “the news”? Better to confine oneself to the Bible and to literature which speaks of eternal truths. What is the point of reading about the Boston bombing, the Grosnell gorgon or other evils of the day? We already know they are out there and need to be opposed. Aside from headlines, I try to skim over reports of horrific crimes, and I’m no less informed about the “real world” for having done so.


  10. toad says:

    I utterly agree, and sympathise. with you, JH.
    It was 9/11 that did me in, personally. When I realised the world was terminally insane and hopeless.
    After covering that, I wanted out of the business and – to a large extent – the world, as soon as possible. To retire to a farm, as Cole Porter said. So I did.

    But what if nobody did read about Grosnell?
    What would happen then?
    Would he just go on doing his thing?

    Although, I also find myself asking what “the point” of practically everything is.
    Which, I suppose is where religion comes in, for many.
    We may find out that this Boston business is someone punishing us on behalf of God, of course.


  11. Nigel D'Cruz says:

    The life of every human being is absolutely inviolable, and sacrosanct.

    Capital/Corporal punishment is extremely antiquated, and extremely barbaric.

    I beg America’s judiciary to spare the life of Kermit Gosnell, and also spare the lives of other convicted offenders in the United States of America.


    Nigel D’Cruz.
    Perth, Western Australia. AUSTRALIA.


  12. johnhenrycn says:

    I agree with this Spaniard (?) from “Perth, Western Australia. AUSTRALIA”, except my kids thank me for boxing them around the ears. I remember once breaking down the locked door of our bathroom to get at my son who was mouthing me. He jumped out the window onto the roof when I did – he was that scared. He lives in Japan, now. Did I go wrong?


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